Open-Source Intelligence 101

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is the collecting of unclassified, publicly available information for use in an intelligence context. It can be used by organizations to strengthen their intelligence production capabilities in investigatory work of all kinds, from enhanced due diligence screening to business risk analysis to criminal profiling and investigation. This blog post will cover the fundamentals of OSINT, including its definition and common uses.

What is OSINT?

The practice of gathering intelligence through the exploitation of publicly available resources isn’t new—it’s been around informally for hundreds of years, and it’s been an official intelligence technique since at least the Second World War, when enemy powers kept tabs on each other by monitoring open sources like foreign broadcasts and press clippings. What’s new, then, is not the act of capturing free-floating intelligence but rather the sheer volume of data made available by the internet and social media, which have made OSINT more complex in terms of both sources and techniques.

While open sources continue to include traditional mass media and other offline resources, OSINT today is increasingly online, making use of the massive, ever-expanding wealth of digital open sources. Modern OSINT combines image and textual analysis (e.g., the reading of web content) with digital research techniques (e.g., social network mapping). OSINT sources can be free or subscription-based, on- or offline, formal or informal; what distinguishes them from other intelligence sources is their unclassified status or availability to any member of the public. Commonly used open sources include:

  • media: newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and anything else published on public media channels and platforms, including social media
  • public data: government reports, official data such as budgets and census data, hearings, legislative debates, press conferences and speeches
  • professional and academic sources: conference or event proceedings, symposia, professional association publications, academic papers, whitepapers and annual reports

The use of open, unclassified sources means that OSINT is widely available to individuals and organizations both within and beyond the traditional intelligence community.

What are some of the uses of OSINT, and who can benefit from it?

The audience for modern intelligence is diverse and includes both individuals and organizations. OSINT is used to support various investigative procedures, including criminal and cybercrime investigations, counterterrorism, due diligence research, fraud and other regulatory compliance investigations, operational security, business and competitive analysis and other intelligence gathering by law enforcement, government departments, regulatory bodies, businesses and cybersecurity professionals. Journalists, charities and non-governmental organizations also use OSINT techniques to research and highlight issues important to their organizations.

Get trained with KeyNorth.

The new state of information transparency creates an environment of both opportunity and risk. Training in the strategic, effective, and ethical use of OSINT allows individuals and organizations to harness the potential of open data and protect themselves against threats.